As we walked through the city, we witnessed even greater destruction than what we could observe from our bus ride. Now we were walking amongst the flattened rubble, the dead life, the complete ruins of an entire town. It really did not feel real.
It had been 10 days since the storm. People were slowly digging through the wreckage. Occasionally scooters or trikes would pass by. But there was still no wind, no sound, no ambiance; everything just felt dead. Haunting. Animals even lay deceased all over the place. As Mace best described it, "a ghostly landscape filled with relics of what used to be. Trees frozen by the trauma, tombs of wood and cement, mountains of debris that was not even discernible, and cars precariously placed on top of people's houses from the storm." Most of the remaining survivors had congregated to refugee sites around the town, where they had stationed together and were rationing their meager supplies of what the town provided in terms of food, water, and medicine. Commerce had already resumed, as people offered high-priced gasoline in soda bottles all the way to cheaply-priced vegetables.
We were headed to the city center to hopefully meet with the mayor or other surviving town official. ZEDRU was still hoping their relief goods would arrive from Manila, so we going to petition for use a town truck to pick-up the goods and then distribute them through the town.
As we walked, we all observed a man attempting to lock up his front door. His house no longer had a roof; the windows were entirely blown out; and the walls were heavily compromised and mostly destroyed. Basically all he head left was a front door, so it was a bit comical that he was attempting to lock up before he left. As Mace and I nudged each other and began laughing, I promptly felt guilty. I felt bad to be finding humor, even to be displaying a cheerful disposition at all. Mace reassured me and said, "look around," and then pointed out that the Filipino people were still very much smiling and making the most of the situation. Indeed we were in sad circumstances, but we are here to restore light, even if that light is just our cheerful disposition. He then pointed to some guy set up with a chair on the side of the road and a sign that said "Haircuts! 50 pesos!" (About $1). And Mace said, "see, who in their right mind is worried about their hair being an appropriate length in the midst of all this? It's okay to find the joy."
We finally arrived at the City Municipal, and though the roof had completely blown off, the structure was still in fair-standing. Men were on the roof tying down tarps to protect the interior. I took out my phone to see if I had reception to change my returning flight. My flight home was to leave in 2 days, but if I could not change this flight, it would cost me another ticket to return home. My phone had no reception, but luckily a group called Rescue-Net had set up just outside of the municipal with a satellite phone so survivors could call relatives. Mace and I watched some of the survivors make hurried phone calls to people in other places. Many of them were in tears, as the phone operator rather abrasively took the phone from their hands, explaining that four minutes was too long of a call and it was very expensive. I reluctantly sat down to make a call. The man asked for the number, and I gave him Leslie's. The phone rang through to her voicemail, and I left an extremely rushed message to see if Leslie could help me change my flight, giving her all the information I had for her to do so. With fingers crossed, Mace and I hoped that message would reach Leslie and she would be able to help me. I told Mace that I was not going to worry about it and continue focusing on our mission.
We walked over to Mom Beth, who was conversing with the City Mayor about offering us a vehicle to use for goods distribution. He would accept, only if we were willing to leave all of our relief goods with this city. We couldn't do that since we wanted to travel to some surrounding towns, so we were denied use of a vehicle. The Mayor informed us of another location where many survivors had taken refuge. We thanked him for the direction and departed back into the streets to find this local gymnasium.
As we walked, Mace and I talked about what it must have been like to be hiding in one of these demolished homes, as the great storm raged all around. All of these homes were completely submerged in the climax of the event. How did anyone survive? One survivor told us later that as he was dashing to his home, it was like running through walls of water. As he crawled into his driveway, he turned to look back and saw nothing but gray, couldn't even see his neighbor's house. As the water level rose in his home, something prompted him to go to a random house that was two stories tall. He and his family ran through this abandoned home to the top floor, right as the storm surge hit.
Mace and I struggled to comprehend what the experience would have been like.
We then reached the gates to the gymnasium.
We entered and the building was full of people, all who had set up little camps on the bleachers. ZEDRU walked into the center and immediately began setting up their medical supplies on tables. The people began to gather, and we all resumed our same duties from the morning. I wrote down names, pulses, and blood pressure as quickly as I could, while Mom Beth prescribed medications next to me. In front of us were the rest of the crew performing surgeries and cleaning up intensely infected wounds. Mace told me later that he had asked a survivor to tell him about the storm. The gym had flooded fifteen feet high, and everyone nearby was attempting to run for the gymnasium and get to the higher steps. They could see people trying to swim for the steps, but the storm was too powerful and carried them away, out of sight. After the water had receded, bodies were lying everywhere. All over the gym floor, everywhere on the streets. The mothers shielded their children, while the remaining men and teenagers descended the steps of the gym to carry away the lifeless bodies. It was a horrible.
After a couple hours of administering to all the people, distributing medicine, addressing their injuries, Brylle and I started playing with the children. Brylle began showing them magic tricks, and I sat down with the younger kids and taught them "down by the banks." We could not communicate well, but eventually they caught on, and I sung for them as we played over and over. The kids were laughing hard and really getting into it. Their parents had formed a circle around us. One of them later asked me if I was a schoolteacher back home. I told her I was not; I was actually an accountant, and she was surprised. She said that watching me with children, I seems like a caretaker or a nanny. It made me feel good.
After we said our goodbyes and ventured back into the streets to search more more people in need of medical service, Mace told me about the contrast he observed. He shared more of the gruesome wounds he encountered and more stories of the storm. There was so much fear and sadness. Then he told me that he was watching me play with the children after I had finished my work. And what he loved more than the happiness on the children's faces was the hope on the parent's faces, as they watched their kids laugh and play. He told me that I had a contagious vibrancy that was giving so much vitality to this little community and filling them up with relief and hope. He told me that we had every reason to be exhausted. We had hardly slept, we've worked all day, it is blazing hot, we've eaten only one small meal, yet we continue to interact with everyone with such excitement and energy. No doubt we are helping to put light back into these people.
We continued to process the situation as we walked.
Shortly after, our team came across a pump. They paused for a drink, and Mace and I were reluctant to join, wondering how sanitary it was. Eventually with the pressure of the heat, Mace and I joined in getting a drink and cooling ourselves off in the blazing sun. A nearby Filippino woman even came out of her little hut and offered me some shampoo to wash my hair. I was shocked with her generosity.
I graciously accepted and pulled down my hair to finally wash it.
Afterwards, our travels continued, treating all the people we could find along the way. Then we reached a large complex of high apartment structures. After observing groups of people huddled amongst their erected tents inside, we entered and set up our medical stations once again.
Immediately people began swarming. Children to see what was going on, and adults to point us in the direction of people who needed help. This complex appeared to have more serious injuries than all the rest. Such serious injuries and infection had made many bed-ridden. ZEDRU had set up their medical stations and were treating all they could, but as Mace wondered through all the apartment buildings, which were now just hollowed concrete structures, he found many people tucked away that needed extreme assistance. ZEDRU became a little moving medical pack.
I immediately began playing with all of the children. I taught them games like Red Rover, Red Rover, and follow the leader. The more we played, the more children came over. Eventually we began playing tag, running around and chasing each other. Over an hour had passed, and I hadn't seen Mace, or anyone from our team for quite some time. The children and I continued to sing songs and do dances. They would teach me something from their culture, and then I would teach them something from mine. The older ones grew bored, but the younger ones wouldn't leave my side. Another hour or so had gone by and the children and I continued to run around and have race. My energy was growing so weak. The sun was setting, and as my energy decreased more and more, I sat down and began to tell the children stories. They really couldn't understand me, nor could I understand them. But I tried with the tiny amount of energy I had left to tell them animated stories of dragons and princesses. More time passed and still not sight of Mace or the team. I was so extremely fatigued, still trying to keep the kids focus, despite we couldn't understand one word of each other.
Finally, Mace rounded the corner of a complex a ways away. We made eye contact, he smiled, and relief flooded me. He shoulders were heavy, and he looked extremely exhausted as well. He came up next to me, where I was sitting surrounded with children, and squatted down with me to joke with the children. Shortly after, he asked if I was ready to go. We packed up with the rest of our team and headed out. It was around 10 pm.
As we trekked all the way across town, back to our camp at the church, Mace told me about his experience at that complex. He told me of a woman that he was led to from one of the children. She had stepped on a nail in the storm, and it had been driven all the way through her foot. The nail was removed after the storm, but in all these passing days since, the hole had become very infected. The bottom of her foot was so swollen and full of puss that she could not even stand. The top of her foot had filled up with black maggots from the hole. Having no pain killers, the team had to swab out all the maggots and cut through all the infected parts to release the puss. Mace could do nothing for this woman, except hold her tiny frame as she screamed in pain. The surgery continued for quite some time, and the woman was sobbing heavily by the end. Mace's own eyes had watered up in this story, and he said once the procedure was over, he could hardly stomach the nausea and sadness inside of him. He left the woman's room so disheartened. Then he rounded the corner of the building and saw me sitting there, still surrounded by kids just as I was hours earlier, and doing my absolute best to smile and put on a show for them. He said he stopped and watched me for a moment and was immediately rejuvenated with light and mental clarity.
As I told him that I felt inferior in skill compared to everyone else. I wasn't trained medically, and I can't speak the language. I doubted if me being here was really making an impact. Mace stopped me immediately where we were walking. He made me turn to him and then began telling me about the great role I am playing in lifting the children and also keeping them occupied. Surely if I hadn't been there, the children would have followed the screams and gone running into the house where Mace was performing surgery. By keeping them busy, they were not disturbing the more serious medical missions that needed to happen.
We both felt our spirits renew as we talked. It had been such an exhausting day, working nonstop since 4 am this morning, only had one small meal in the middle of the day. The weather was blazing, and our senses were overstimulated, but we continued to walk and process all we had encountered. We lifted each other up as we walked through the darkness.
We quickly set up a tent outside for Mace, Preston, Walter, and myself. And we snacked on chocolate crackers and granola before bed. The rest of our team set up camp inside on the remaining church pews.
After we laid down to rest our exhausted bodies and minds, I asked Mace to tell me a story to get my mind off all I had just experienced over the last 17 hours of work. Mace agreed, and I remember nothing more that he said because I was fast asleep.
Our first day of our medical mission was complete. This little ruined town was slowly being repaired.
Upward and onward,